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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wine of the Week: 1994 Beaulieu Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

Well Thanksgiving has come and gone, I only managed to aggravate one member of my family this year. But after the bubbly was poured and a few sips and long slurps, all was forgiven. See how wine can bring us all together? 
Even if we come from completely different backgrounds, widely different personalities, and even diametrically opposed political point of view, wine can bring us together. I have many folks who I follow with my twitter account, which ordinarily would not be interested in giving me the time of day, let alone converse with me on a subject such as this. Again wine can bring us all together, but not just any wine.

No, I'm not talking about the cheap commodity wines which fill a majority of lower shelves in the garden variety grocery store. Wines, which honestly have more in common with a loaf a generic bread than they do with a wine that has soul. Oh, a wine with soul, huh, so what is that?

It's the kind of wine I want to introduce to you today; it is my wine of the week. I don't normally talk about wines that are not readily available in the market place, but this wine came back to life just the other day, it really demands your attention. It happened when I discovered this bottle sitting there at my fathers place, covered with dust and dead spiders, out on his enclosed patio, exposed to wide temperature variations year after year, since 1994.
As I attempted to pull the cork on this wine, it just crumbled under the weight of time and improper storage conditions. I did all I could possibly do, to not let the cork make a splash down into the wine below, but alas it was no use and I had to screen the wine from what was now a cork explosion floating upon the still dark garnet colored waves below, just now starting to turn a brick-ish orange color on the rim. The aromas of cedar, dark cherry and ripe plum billowed up at me, forcing an immediate change in my opinion about what lay in this bottle
[I was thinking vinegar].

Sensing what I whiffed from the aromas, I became excited just to get it in my glass from the decanter which I covered with a small plate. Oh man was I rewarded with a bounty of finesse, I could taste the Rutherford vineyard dust from 1994, solid structure, smooth tannins, pure dark and red fruit and a long lingering finish. I sat in stunned silence for a moment and then said to Mrs. Cuvee, "now this is how you do it, this is a wine with a soul".

See folks this won't be the experience if you come across a two-buck upchuck years from now, no the caliber of juice being put into to BV Rutherford is cut from a different cloth, one you can taste and experience, down to the last drop falling from the bottle. It's funny that this wine still sells for a medium ranged price of $20 most places, but some Costco locations still have the 2007 sitting around selling for $15, quite a steal in my opinion. I'm going to grab a few put them away for a decade or two, just to see the magic unfold again. For the score keepers in the audience, I gave this wine a solid 90 points. The 17 years in the bottle have barely even began to touch this wines solid structure. Great job BV!

But if you want the 1994 BV Rutherford, I found KL Wines has a stash of it, so you can still grab your own splash of 1994 and experience a wine that I know will just wow you, as it did me. To confirm my impressions; I found the Wine Speculator's score on this same wine from one they uncorked in 1997. They listed it as "very impressive" with a score of 90 points on a wine weighing in at only 12% abv [providing food for thought]. Okay folks that is all I got for you today, until next time sip long and prosper!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Travel Tuesday: San Felipe Uncorked

The best cure for lack of inspiration is travel; it's really helps to broaden your perspective; it also enables you to see what the world offers behind the walls of the "sound-bite" nation. Why else leave the comfy confines of my home here in San Diego to venture far into the interior of Baja. There was something I wanted to uncork for myself in venturing down to old Mexico.

I looked at this impromptu opportunity to go on a press-trip as not only a way to escape unprecedented cold, rainy weather which was just about ready to descend upon San Diego. It was also good opportunity to grow as a writer, while at the same time discover for myself America's wonderful neighbor to the south, to experience how different their world is from my own home, but yet so similar.

Helping me frame in my mind my principal reason for accepting this opportunity of discovery is Marcel Proust who said; “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” His words are piercing, cutting most of to the quick if the truth be told. Before we can see the world in which we wish to travel, we need to have “new-eyes”.

It’s far too easy for average Americans; [myself included] to buy into our “sound-bite” culture and paint with broad strokes that which we think we understand about the places and peoples of our tiny world. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from my travels of late, you got to take the rough with the smooth.

A small group of bloggers was invited down by the Baja State Tourism Office to visit San Felipe during their annual Shrimp Festival. San Felipe is located on the Sea of Cortes side of Baja and about a four drive from TJ.

It’s a great place to visit, many Snow-Birds find their way their each year during the winter months. Some folks [known as ex-pats] like it so much they’ve taken up a permanent residence, building a wonderful community which brings needed employment to many. The beaches are beautiful, the cabana’s bountiful and you’ll find many overnight camping sites for the adventurous.

For many folks San Felipe is a great place for off-road lifestyle; making it a great jumping off place for those activities. If you love fresh seafood, especially shrimp then you've come to the right place, you can eat and drink like a king for nearly a paupers price.

Was I bit worried about traveling to Mexico? Yes, I can not lie, there was a bit of hesitation, a moment of pause, thinking what am I doing? We all have heard the stories about some of the bad things happening in Mexico. Honestly though, I never felt like I was ever in any kind of danger at all. We passed through many check-points on the way to San Felipe, with plenty of soldiers providing over-watch to the unsuspecting traveler.

Okay maybe there was a few white-knuckle moments; which came in the form of a sometime harrowing drive down the steep barren hills of the La Rumorosa [“the whisperer”] and as our group drove across the open desert below, passing through a sand-storm which blanketed highway so much it was hard to see the oncoming traffic.

So what did I learn from my trip, what were the take-aways? My experiences there, showed me San Felipe [a great sea-side town] is easy going come as you are kind of place. If you learned a little Spanish-lingo before you came down for a visit, it would help enhance your experience, but sparing that, even my basic Spanish skill got me by.

The many ex-pats you encounter are wonderful salt of the earth folks, who are very welcoming of travel newbie’s, as I was invited to sit and have drinks with a few just to chat. I also made some great new friends who were on this press trip with me, you should check out their work; 52 Perfect Days, My Burning Kitchen and Menu in Progress. They have some great perspectives on the trip that you should not miss.

I felt safe walking the streets at night, much the same as walking the streets of San Diego at night, taking the right precautions, with a dash of common sense. Lastly it made me consider, taking my next vacation south of the border. I unfortunately didn't have too many encounters with the rapidly developing wine-scene in the Guadalupe Valley, [La Ruta Del Vino] but it's something to look forward in the near future.

I want to give a decanter full of thanks to the Baja California Tourism board, San Felipe officials and Allison & Partners P.R. for this great opportunity to experience Baja and the wonderful folks that call San Felipe home. Until next folks, sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tapeña Wine and Tapas Naming Contest

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." ~William Shakespeare

Tapas and wine are an integral part of Spanish culture, you can find a great Tapas bars in every city, but in some places they go by another name. In northern Spain, where I often encountered tapas on a recent trip to Navarra; they are called "pintxos" while most of the rest of the country they call them Tapas.

But whatever you call these small, yet very delightful snacks which are easy to make, I'm sure like me, you will call them delicious. You'll find they come in many shapes, sizes and various styles. One thing you can be sure about; these small tasty "bites" are ready to rock your taste-buds.

Tapas take appetizers to new heights and they tend to disappear off of plates as quickly as they can be ordered. One of the funny things about being in Tapas-Bar whether it's abroad or here in San Diego, is being at a complete lost to correctly pronounce many of names myself, most of my ordering came via pointing or gesturing to the new one I wanted to try next.
If you're not familiar with the Tapeña brand, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you, they produce four different wines, a Tempranillo, Garnacha, Verdejo and a dry Rosé.  These wines are part of the Ferrer family portfolio, like Frexinet of which you may already be familiar with iconic black bottled Cava.

You should be able to find that these Tapeña wines are widely available.  Their wines are produced in the Tierra de Castilla, a region near the heart of Spain. You will often find that just like people wines often have their own style; these wines are no exception as you will find them to be fresh and fruit forward, a great wine to uncork at your next Tapas party or get together. Feel free to connect with Tapeña wines on FB or give them a quick shout-out on Twitter.

Now for the contest portion, I have one of my favorite Tapas dishes pictured here, your job is figure out and name this very popular Tapas dish. If you're looking for some inspiration for finding the name of this very tasty Tapas dish, you can check here for some great recipes from the fine folks at Tapeña.
The contest will run from today November 28th through Friday, December 9th which is a Monday, one winner will be chosen at random, so feel free to comment as often as you like, I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Tapeña Wines want to give you a head start on planning your very own Tapas get-together by awarding a "party-pack" to one of my readers. The pack includes some great items to help you get you going in the right direction, finding your favorite wine and Tapas pairing. You will find, multi colored wine charms, a great tapas cookbook to help you get creative, corkscrew [waiters friend style] to help you uncork your own adventures, and of last but certainly not least you will get all four of their wines pictured above as well.

By the way; in order to enter this contest, you must be 21 years or older to enter; by entering the contest and leaving a comment below you verify you are over 21. Big apologies to all my readers outside the U.S. but you must also be a legal U.S. citizen to be eligible to win. Good luck and until next time may you continue to sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wine of the Week: 2009 La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir

Well sports fan here it's the day before Thanksgiving. I know many of you're busy preparing for the annual stuff-your-face to gills holiday we all look forward to every year [wink].

It's also a great day to get your "sports" fix in for the year, if you have not been paying attention to any football this year, tomorrow promises to be a fantastic showdown between some teams that are no doubt destined for the big dance.

I know this is normally a day to tune out the TV and commune with the family but you definitely don't want to miss the action year, to see which team will win the galloping gobbler award. Go Pack go!

But for those of you not into the whole "sports" thing on Thanksgiving [poor souls] you may then just be interested finding out about what the Pilgrims were really dining upon for the "first" Thanksgiving meal [supposedly not a pumpkin pie in sight]. It had much less to do with Turkey than most folks think, you can check out the more realistic and rustic menu here; Plimoth Plantation's recipes. By the way I didn’t misspell Plymouth, that's the old spelling you see above in the link.

For the history buffs in the reading audience, wanting to show-off some new Thanksgiving trivia acumen; may I suggest taking a quick trip over to Nat-Geo who has taken the time out-line some of the biggest myths about the holiday. They also lend some credence to the annoying facts that can't be debunked, then click on over to Thanksgiving Myths and Facts.

Now for every else still looking for the perfect wine to quaff with their family and friends tomorrow, I have a newly discovered favorite, a Pinot Noir from Sonoma Mountain. If you're thinking "umm, what the bleep is Sonoma Mountain" well stay tuned. We've all heard of Russian River Pinot and Sonoma Coast Pinot, as hot-spot areas for Pinot Noir. But when this sample arrived last week, I was a bit surprised to see a Pinot Noir from this AVA, simply because it has great reputation for producing stellar Cabernet Sauvignon. So if this review has you thirsting to know more about Sonoma Mountain, please click here, as there's a great article that breaks it down for you quite quickly.

Now about this wonderful expression of Pinot Noir that Mrs. Cuvee and I popped the cork on just last night. A wine that we dared to pair with apricot glazed pork chops, grilled to mouth-watering perfection. Also being grilled, right along side the bone-in pork chops, were some mighty tasty asparagus spears giving aid to the side of Parmesan, garlic potatoes I prepared in a skillet via the side-burner. 

Proving a man with a grill is a man with a mission to deliver fabulous flavor from the everyday mundane and humdrum choices that populate many dining tables. Did I deliver, umm well I think so, but Mrs. Cuvee has a different opinion, which only varies slightly from mine [wink]. That said the one thing that over delivered on taste, finesse and length was this Pinot Noir from Lafollette Wines, Mrs. Cuvee and I had a bit of a tussle over the last few drops.

Wow, this wine has some very alluring aromas and flavors. A nice pop of strawberries and blackberries, accented with sweet baking spices and earthy minerals, almost a meaty quality to it. A rich, ripe, silky wine, fully supported by well integrated tannins, structure and bright acidity, punctuated by a long silky finish. Even after the wine was gone from my glass, I still held onto because the aromas escaping from the glass was like the sweet perfume on the nape of the neck [don't shake your head, that's just how it went down] oh Mrs. Cuvee.

Honestly folks this is some fantastic juice and I would highly recommend it for Thanksgiving day or anytime you want a wine that comes dressed to impress. This wine sells for a SRP of 39.99 and I gave it a score of 92 points, a drink now and drink often wine. Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Uncorked: My Top 10 Wines for the Holiday

"Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car." ~ Stephen Colbert

Another wonderful year nearly ready to put in the can and stored away for posterity, but every year at this time we collectively take time-out to give a "thanks" for our collective blessings.

I know there are a few folks in my age bracket speaking mostly to the guys, it's far too easy to become the grumpy old men, we swore we would never be, yelling and gesturing for the "kid" to get off our lawns even if we haven't kept it up and has now turned a dull shade of brown.

Many of the grumpiest among us, even start to resent holidays, like the one right around the corner, for many it has become far too clichéd, football, pumpkin pies, turkeys and hot sweaters and homes so hot you can get "meat" sweats, man do I totally get that attitude.

But [yep here it comes] I think many of those "grumps" may just need a couple glasses of decent vino, to help them get over their anti-holiday feelings. So this year when you gather with your families or choose to serve others, use it to embrace them and thank each one of them for being a part of your life, whether you like them or not. I think if we all do that [myself included] we will be better off in the long run. I’m now stepping away from the soap box and returning you to your normally scheduled holiday wine review.

Every year at this time, I give my Top Ten Thanksgiving Holiday Wine "picks" and this year is no exception. I know my post is a bit "danger" close for those wanting to stock up for the holiday, but chalk-up these recommendations for the procrastinators in the audience who waited to the last minute, to hear about ten tasty selections to brighten up your holiday menus this week. Yes most, but not all of them will be Pinot Noirs. Sorry no white wines to recommend this time around, perhaps next year.

1. Emiliana Natura Carmenere 2010 Colchagua Valley $16.99: This wine was one of the early favorites that evening for it's easy-going personality, abundant fruit and uncomplicated body, made for an early and easy quaff. I scored this wine an easy 87 points.

2. Paraiso 2008 Pinot Noir, SLH: I scored this wine 91 points. Fully flavored and balanced with firm acidity. Seducing aromas draw you in again and again, a winetastic experience. A wonderfully style driven Pinot Noir, that will pair with many types of food and is great on its own. Expressive aromas and enticing flavors await your purchase. Definitely worth the price of admission. Other Voices: The International Wine Review gave them 90 points. This wine sells for $18 in a few Costco locations here in California.

3. Taz 2009 Pinot Noir: Another wonderful wine from Santa Barbara County. With so much hoopla around RRV PN it can be easy to forget about the wonderful expressions of Pinot Noir, coming from this area. In the glass you'll find a wonderful cranberry colored core, floral and baking spice aromas swirling about, leaning toward the strawberry end of the flavor spectrum. On the plate a well-balanced attack of baking spices, red berry fruits and finish is plush. I scored this wine 91 points. Just a fantastic wine from the SBC region. Taz really delivers a consistent wine tasting experience. Selling for under $20, a real steal!

4. Rodney Strong Estate Pinot Noir 2009: This wine is a steal under $15 black;">still being a fantastic bargain at just under $20. I found this wine to have a garnet colored core. The first whiff, reminded me sweet baking spices, rose petals and fragrant strawberries. On palate a nice attack of dusty-spices, sweet vanilla, sandalwood, a silky mouth-feel, and baked strawberries, mouth watering acidity, leading to the plush finish. Adds the perfect score to your holiday menu, I gave this wine a score of 89 points and a hearty buy recommendation.

5. Byron PN SMV 2009: The wine’s perfectly poised fruit to acid balance makes this wine incredibly food-friendly. My palate was struck by wave after wave of a rich cherry and raspberry pie filling, wrapped around the smokey vanilla-tinged wonderfully integrated oak, with a small dose of rich earthiness. The mouth feel is silky, the brilliant finish is long and sumptuous. This wine is drinking FAB, right now and will only get better over the next few years. A real stunner, I gave this wine 90 points and it sells for $18 most places or $26 through the tasting room.

6. Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir 2009: Woo-hoo, this wine hit it out of the freaking park, seriously great juice for the price. In the glass, a shimmering dark crimson colored core.  A raft of flavors coming your way, cherries, raspberries, light touch of blue-berries sweet vanilla, tobacco, baking spices and fat-slap of bacon fat, and the finish is plump. It sells for a SRP of $20 at most places here in San Diego like your local Bevmo. I gave this wine a score of 92 flavor filled points, nicely done.

7. Craggy Range, Te Muna Road Single Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir: In the glass a rich looking strawberry colored core. On the first whiff, wow, a wonderful perfume of dried strawberries, rich earth and raspberry. After the first splash down, this immediately appealing Pinot is soft but lush, presenting a raft of vanilla, cinnamon and sandalwood flavors, with a healthy splash of raspberry and strawberry pie filling leading to the silky plush finish. A great performer from our friends down-under, it has a SRP of $40 and is one of my top pick for this weeks festivities.

8. Undurraga T.H. Syrah 2009: This "Terroir Hunter" wine hails from the Leyda Valley, produced by one of Chile's oldest wineries. In the glass you'll find the core leaning toward purple. On the nose compact ripe blueberry and black-berry fruit, with just a touch of olive aromas leaps from the glass. Really nice mouth-feel, plush and giving, balanced acidity, polished blueberry and black-berry and floral flavors are drawn from the nose, leading to a nicely penetrating finish, with touches of chocolate and expresso rounding out the experience. An extremely well done wine, with plenty to offer for the $25 price of admission. I gave this wine a score of 90 points, highly recommended.

9. Loma Larga Syrah 2006: This wine is from Chile's Casablanca Valley, a 100% Syrah which was not fined or filtered, so decanting is highly recommended through a screen. But don't let that bit of sway you one bit from this fantastic example of a cool climate Syrah. It definitely was my favorite, as I gave it a solid 92 point, a great match with a variety of holiday foods. In the glass a deeply crimson colored core, deeply staining legs against the glass. After first swirl, blueberry, licorice and meaty aromas combine to perfume the air above the glass preparing you for the coming attractions.

The first sip is a head-back wow, you'll find this wine located on the drink now and drink often aisle, nice heft and the tannins are polished, leading to a lengthy finish. Gamey, herbal and earthy complexity help you get your head around the blueberry and black berry fruit that dominates the mid-palate, while the striking acidity keeps the wine in complete balance for the total package. Selling for a SRP of $29, it's great juice for this price point, it really over delivers and came dressed to impress.

10. The Fonseca Porto Bin #27 Ruby Port: You always need to save room for dessert and what would my blog be without a recommendation on one the tastier options for after dinner than this Fonseca Ruby style port, ready to dress up that pumpkin pie. A wine produced using advanced piston fermentation called, "port toes" and aged four years in neutral wood before being bottled. 

You can find this wine selling for about $20 or less most places. In the glass you can expect an opaque purple leaning toward a deep red colored edge. Sticking you nose the glass expect a raft of compact, intense, blackcurrant and cherry aromas. After the first slurp, wow nice, a fully expressive but firm, plump fruit flavors stretched over mellow tannin structure and a lasting finish.

From my house yours this holiday season, here's to a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving, whatever you do I hope you uncork some great holiday memories, until next time sip long and prospers cheers!

Occupy Syrah: A Grape Cause

It was Aristotle  who said that, "All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire" and it was Graham Chapman who said, "All ideas come about through some sort of observation".

It is with those two quotes in mind that I came up with the idea for the "Occupy Syrah Movement". It literally came about from a conversation; I was having on twitter, something I do often. It then percolated through my own observations and conversations that I've had over the years with many different sources in wine world. This movement is being aided and abetted by none other than Shawn Burgert a self-described Wandering-Wino.

Take this example; Jon Bonné, Wine Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, declared that "The grand experiment to push Syrah as California's next great red grape has hit a brick wall." In an article entitled California Syrah: Not the Next Big Thing, But Better For It? Talia Baiocchi states, "the numbers do nothing to prove him wrong. As of last month, sales of Syrah and Shiraz were down another 11% from the year before." Ouch, now that has got to hurt and those facts only bolster my position about why Syrah needs our help, I say viva the revolution!

For most folks, Syrah is not even on their collective wine swirling radar, like it came from the isle of misfit toys or something and for me I can't even imagine why its not a better received wine. From my observations, Syrah seems to sit in far too many wineries, distributors, and retailers inventories collecting dust, in nearly a virtual obscurity, when compared and contrasted to other wines. It would seem that the average vino-sapien out there, is just too unsure of what to do with it, they just don't know what to pair or where it fits into their daily quaff.

For example if I said, "what would you pair with a Cabernet Sauvignon", you would most likely have a quick answer or if I asked, "what would you pair with a Pinot Noir", again many easy answers would immediately populate on the tip of your tongue. Now if I said, give me some pairing suggestions for Syrah, I'm pretty sure I would get far too many blank stares and a few shoulder shrugs.

Now if you're reading this from the wine-blogger perspective, you most likely have all the answers to those questions and drink Syrah on a regular to semi-regular basis.  My challenge to you other [1%] wine-bloggers out there, who already "get-it" is to help the other vino-sapiens [99%] out there who don't.

So your part of this movement is to be a "thought" leader, go out make some noise, shake up your local wine bar, wine store or your favorite tasting room with an occupation. So I'm going to ask you to get on-board with the movement, the occupation if you will. Please help me and help Syrah by promoting this event, to Occupy Syrah, where ever and whenever you can. How you help is up to you, but if you do have an event, please take some pictures and post them to Occupy Syrah FB page here. For those of you with a twitter account please feel free to follow the conversation on December 7th from 4-8pm PST, which also happens to be Wine Wednesday, we will be using the hash-tag #OccupySyrah.

In the interest of full disclosure, I personally don't seek to gain one thin dime by this promotion. Okay a few more folks may look at my blog and I may get a bit more traffic. But in all candor and honesty my only motivation is; the desire to see this grape have its well deserved day in the sun, with plenty of hang-time of course.

I know jumping to conclusions is considered good exercise by some, but honestly for those of you with concerns about the reasons behind this idea, let me lay those fears to rest. Occupy Syrah has never had anything to do with belittling or minimizing anyone period. Because it's in fact a movement about elevating a grape from realm of the of less-likely to be quaffed, to the mainstream of vino consciousness.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why You Should Care About Washington Wine

As you may know, from time to time, I like to feature new voices who have great insights on the vast world of wine and vines. Today's post by Matthew Delaney of the The Wine'dUp Blog is one of those voices.
In discussing this piece with Matt, I gave him a suggestion on a direction I would love to see this article go. The goal being to shine a big bright light on Washington State Wines and more specifically Merlot.

Merlot has been kicked around quite a bit in the last few years, not being given the respect it deserves. Perhaps part of the problem, is because of many big flabby messes coming out of my home state, California. I'm saying this in general, there are of course exceptions, feel free to note them in the comment section below, where I post everything except obvious spam. That said, I think from the many Washington State Merlots that I've tasted in the past few years and very recently on Red Mountain, that they have Merlot dialed in like no one else. So with no further ado, here's Matt's take on the direction of Merlot in Washington State.

As a transplant from California, home to many of the finest wine regions in the world, I lacked high expectations for Washington wines. I'd lived and breathed California wines for as long as I can remember, growing up on the Central Coast, nestled between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, then settling on the footsteps of Napa and Sonoma wine countries in San Francisco. While living there, I held the somewhat well-known position of Beverage Controller for the largest hotel in the city- effectively making me the largest buyer of wine in Northern California. I then moonlighted as a concierge for several of the top hotels in the city, teaching what I had learned about California wines to visitors from all over the world. The point I am making is simply this: If I can be won over by a Washington wine, anyone can- including you.

To say that Washington's wine industry is budding is a vast understatement; If you haven't been exposed to a variety of wines from this region by now, expect to be in the near future. Washington has already established itself as the second largest producer of wine in the United States with critical acclaim pouring in from an abundance of reviewers, including yours truly.

Although the vast amount of Washingtonians live in the western part of the state in cities like Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver, grapes simply don't like it there; It's far too wet and cold. Our wine scene is huddled among the eastern regions of the state, in areas like Columbia Valley, where climates are much warmer and drier. The western rains, which keep many people locked indoors the majority of the year, do produce one pleasant advantage- An almost unquenchable desire for fine dining and drinking. Washingtonians have a well developed palate for great beer and wine!

If there is one thing I have discovered about the Washington wine scene, it is the propensity to add flare, sensuality, and style to everything they do. Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards, found in the newly established Lake Chelan AVA, shocks conservative minds with wines like "Shameless Hussy", "Burning Desire", and "Double Dip Magnum". The central theme of this outlandish winery is based upon an entrepreneur running a rowboat taxi ferrying miners across Lake Chelan to the brothel on Point Lovely. Wineries like Hard Row continue to grab the attention of wine lovers looking to avoid stuffy and pretentious wine scenes. 

Your browser may not support display of this image.One varietal in particular has held steadfast in its place among Washington wine elites. Through the decades, while perceptions of the grape swayed up and down, Washington has had an unwavering ability to deliver solid Merlot. The long days and cool nights of Eastern Washington have proven perfect for Merlot and it is now the most widely planted grape. Fresh wineries like Hard Row to Hoe and 14 Hands are springing up in kitchens across the state. I can't imagine describing Hard Row to Hoe's Shameless Hussey Merlot any better than reviewer Rick Bakas did when he raved, "[this wine] grabs you by the back of the head and says I’m gonna rock your world so buckle up".

I've personally watched as 14 Hands Merlot rapidly spread in popularity here. Once only found in restaurants, this fine, reasonably priced wine is now at Safeway and Costco. The 14 Hands bouquet is ripe with spice and black cherry, followed by flavors of plums, dark cherry, mocha, and spice, then finished nicely with distinct tannins; A fantastic selection for holiday gatherings soon to be taking place.

Statistically, Washington is a viticulture powerhouse set to take over the United States in the coming decades. It is quite possible that future generations will come to know the Pacific Northwest, not Napa and Sonoma, as the greatest wine viticulture area in our country. Recent and repetitive research projects, the latest of which was conducted by Stanford University, have shown that climate change could shrink top-quality wine grape acreage in California by up to 50% by 2040. The same temperature effects of global warming are set to drastically increase the amount of premium viticulture land in Washington. As Washington vines continue age, local wine expertise continues to increase, and climate change creates more top-quality land, Washington wine is sure to be on the tongues of wine drinkers in every corner of the world. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wine of the Week: Terra d' Oro Zinfandel Port

Boy oh-boy, another Wine-Wednesday already with the holidays fast approaching it's time to uncork another Wine of the Week, one that will be the perfect accompaniment to your holiday festivities. In the WOW spotlight this week is a saucy little 375ml number from the find folks at Terra d' Oro, who is selling it for a mere $12, a price that will keep the home-fires burning a little warmer this year.

For you traditionalist in the audience yes you are right, Port is NOT normally made from the Zinfandel grape, though some producers Zins do attempt to reach those heights without fortification. Real "port" is is produced from grapes most folks can't pronounce [Touriga, Tinto etc], or remember what they are called and all start with the letter "T". 

But in this case it's Zinfandel Port all the way, fortified with brandy spirits and made in a ruby style. Sweet wines are really on the uptick these days and why not many Americans have a sweet-tooth, what better wine to fill that need than a tasty Zinfandel Port made right here in California.

I've a couple friends who I remember saying to me, "Bill, uggh we don't like port" I then introduced them to a 20 year Taylor Fladgate and it blew their minds. Funny, they became Port converts that day and I think once most folks understand what it is and the kind of experience this type of wine offers, they will be hooked as well. I mean if you have to have an addiction to something, there are far worse things than having a Port addiction, if you know what I mean.

What to pair? This is great question, for many folks the wine alone, is dessert enough and I totally get that as the RS on this style of wine clocks in around 97 g/l. But that said, here's a pairing option you may not have considered before, but one that is nearly as old as the history of wine itself [somewhat of an embellishment]. Here's my suggestion, grab yourself a farmhouse or farmstead Cheddar or the Mt. Tam from my friends at Cowgirl Creamery. Also the Cinnamon Crusted aged cheese from your local Trader Joe's is a master-stroke, trust me on that recommendation, you will thank me later. But if you like to pop the cork on this bad-boy after the Thanksgiving intestinal suicide, it makes for a great digestive and as a bonus pairs wonderfully with Pumpkin Pie.

Now you're probably thinking "uh, that's nice Bill, but what does it taste like" good question. I of course have your answer that just may interest you. You can expect a Burgundy color in the glass, fresh but rich blackberry and cassis aromas jumping from the glass if you're one of those fancy swirl and sniff first kind of wine-snob. Or if you are the uncork, pour and slurp kind of person, you can expect to find a well knit structure type of canvas, over which velvety black fruits [think blackberry, bramble berry compote] and a nice nip of dark chocolate hanging around in the background. It weighs in with a healthy 19% abv, but you hardly notice till you glance at the bottle.

Just in case you wanted to know or you're just the curious type, this bottle was sent as a sample for the review process. Until next time sip long and prosper cheers!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chile Uncorked: Carménère meets Curry

“You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” – Friedrich Nietzsche. I think there was bit of "chaos" in the hearts and minds of Chilean winemakers back in the nineties discovering something they thought was true, was actually something entirely different.

That bit of chaos came to fruition in 1994 when Chilean producers were told; "umm, that's not Merlot growing in your vineyards".  To their chagrin it was in fact Carmenere,known too many as Bordeaux's sixth grape variety. Another grape the French had kicked to curb in the twentieth century. Like Malbec, Carmenere was given re-birth of sorts or in terms of human relationships, a second chance to become the dancing star on the Chilean wine scene. A dancing star of which; I was happy to introduce to a great group of wandering-winos in search of the newest vinous fix.

I know I'm a bit late to the party regarding coverage on the Carmernere and Curry Twitter Taste live event from a few weeks ago, nonetheless I wanted to take this opportunity to speak about Carmenere Curry Mixer which I hosted here at Chez Vino. This event presented the perfect opportunity to highlight this wonderful wine to many of wine-swirling friends who've not seen too much it before. Although this great wine is gaining more and more momentum and name recognition among not only the wine-savvy, but even the garden variety wino.

That evening our group and the many other wine-blogging folks had opportunities to experience eight different samples of Carmenere, from eight different producers. When the yields are kept low and vintners allow for enough hang time, you'll find that Carménère delivers some best qualities of your favorite Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots all in one grape.

What I found with many of these wines tasted that evening [see list below] was many deep crimson colors filling my glass, great body and structure on the palate, boat loads of plum-like, red and dark fruit leaning flavors with interesting notes of smoky, spicy and earthy notes that took more time than I thought they would to open up.

From reading many other wine bloggers impressions, there did seem to be an over-all arching theme, that the next day, the wines were remarkably better. One of the big take a-ways for me [even though I opened these wines early in the day] is that Carmenere needs a good bit of time in the decanter, before it will hit its full expression on your palate. The provided curry spice didn't really marry too well with the wines; I thought it was too over-powering for the wines selected.
1. Emiliana Natura Carmenere 2010 Colchagua Valley $16.99: This wine was one of the early favorites that evening for it's easying going personality, abundant fruit and uncomplicated body, made for an early and easy quaff.
2. Casa Silva Los Lingues Gran Reserva Carmenere 08 Colchagua Valley $22.00
3. Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Carmenere 08 Colchagua Valley $19.99
4. Montes Alpha Carmenere Colchagua Valley 2008 $24.00: Another highlight of the evening, this wine opened a little quicker than others, making it a crowd favorite. Something I would call a beefy little number, singing with vibrant plum, cherry on a canvas of sweet vanilla, spice and graphite, laying the ground work for a moderate sized finish that is eager to please. Another wonderful producer, that over-delivers on many different levels.
5. Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere 2009 Apalta Valley $16.99
6. Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Carmenere 2009 Rapel Valley $19.99

7. Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere 2009 Rapel Valley $20.00: Another favorite of the evening, a real crowd pleasing quaff, as my guests were coming back to this wine over and over. This producer really over delivers in wines at this price point, this is the second sample of this wine I've had the good fortune to evaluate. This wine is best described as a racy and delicious, delivering a focused pure beam of blackberry, plum and boysenberry, spice and graphite round out this wine, leading to a plush finish.

8. Haras de Pirque Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere 2007 Maipo Valley $13.00: I decided to decant this wine right away, it had been open and decanting at least three hours before my guests were to arrive. To me, this wine for represented one of the best values of the evening. What you have here, is a delightful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, Cab-Franc and a splash of Syrah. Wow, this wine was my favorite of the evening, but I felt it didn't really belong in the line up. That said, my guests were really impressed with this wine and so happy get a splash in their glasses the decanter felt a bit bum-rushed in the process.

Nonetheless, a concentrated, grippy wine, with dark, roasted plum, black licorice playing the background, a bit of charcoal and bittersweet cocoa notes. This is a big wine, which takes time to unfold. I'd pair it with your favorite item from the grill, a sure pleasure in the glass, a back-yard grilling favorite, making it a QPR winning wine. One made in a drink now and drink often style, buy a case.

What a great way to introduce folks to new grape variety, they may have never experienced before. I ended up sending everyone a copy of the fact sheet, which listed every wine tasted that evening, because they were excited to revisit a few of these wines on their own. If you would like to know more about all the wonderful Wines of Chile, I'd invite you to visit their very informative website. Until next time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wine of the Week: Zonin Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2008

"Winemaking is a culture of renegades, we love a difficult year, we don't want customers to deal with that, we want our wines to be dependable, for investors, collectors and the everyday drinker"~ Peter Gago

Wow, it's Wine Wednesday once again, time to uncork another wine of the week. In this weeks spot-light is the The 2008 Zonin Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso.  a very dependable everyday drinker, sent for the review process.

The Ripasso in the review spotlight today is just one in a line of delicious well made wines eager to please even the most adventurous of wandering-winos; looking for wines which will pair effortlessly with many types of Italian Cuisine, while at the same time not breaking the bank. Let me tell you folks that in this day and age of tight finances, that is quite a welomed feat.

They have other wines in their line-up like the Moscato Castello del Poggio, another sample sent for the review process from the great folks at Zonin, who import high quality Italian wines. One, that really wowed me and my guests that day. Full of bright acidity, helping the lush pear, peach, and apple dance delightfully on my palate, the small bubbles are just an added attraction, well worth the price of the admission [$8.99]. A delightful aperitif wine, best paired with a spicy appetizer. Amazing QPR on this wine, I gave it 91 points, I'd buy this wine by the case load, one of the best examples of Moscato I've come across in a long time.

Everyone has a center in their universe, a guiding principal if you will and at the center of the Casa Vinicola Zonin Winery's universe is the land, the soils of the estates-which yield some of the very best Italian winesa nd particularly those at Gambellara, where this family of small farmers has steadily handed down, from one generation to the next, a sense of the vine’s life and its beauty. A life and beauty wonderfully expressed in each glass, from the first pour to the last drop to fall from the bottle.

In the glass the Valpolicella delivers a deep velvety-red garnet colors await the first pour. On the nose, you can expect to find layers of ripe aromas; wild-cherry jam, spice and hints of cedar. After the first slurp, this wine delivers rich, dry, black-cherry flavors, with cacao and spice playing nicely in the background. This wine culminates in a finish that is long, round, and persistent. A great companion for the evening dinner table. By the way; this wine sell for just under $20 [srp] and I gave it a hearty score of 90 points.

On the question of what to pair? A common question asked everyday by foodies and even the garden variety accidental tourist. Okay so now you have an idea of how this wine will unwind in the glass after it's uncorked but what about the food pairing? Zonin Valpolicella, seems to pair perfectly with red meats, crisp fall days roast and even grilled dishes, wild-game, braised meats, and a variety of well aged cheeses. I hoped that list, helped to narrow down your list of choices for the evening. I went for the round-eye roast I picked up from my local Costco, for just seven bucks, enough to feed a small army or a family of four hungry vino-sapiens.

Sorry I know the image is a bit fuzzy this time, but if you quickly scroll the image up and down it appears to achieve more focus, just try it, you will see what I mean. A hearty Valpolicella; is always a favorite and this wine will definitely become a favorite here at Casa-Cuvee, and definite staple I'd recommend for any dinner table, until next time, sip long and prosper, cheers!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Beaujolais Nouveau 2011 Uncorked

Even though the fascination and the novelty of Beaujolais Nouveau has diminished substantially in France as wine consumption among the French people has also dipped.

Still the festivities, pomp and ceremony are still celebrated each November on the third Thursday of the month, unusually with much fanfare and covered by a few media outlets. Beaujolais Nouveau, is a special category of seven to nine week old wines produced from the gamay grape, with a majority the vineyards located in the southern part of France's Burgundy region. These wine are normally found selling in the neighborhood of $10 to $15 price range.

Some say it began as a local phenomenon in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais. Still other say the négociant Georges Duboeuf, saw the marketing potential for Beaujolais Nouveau as not just a way to clear lots of vin ordinaire at a good profit, but selling wine within weeks of the harvest was great of revenue for many cash strapped vintners.

When normally as you know red wines are aged for months and not released until the following year or in some cases even longer. The négociant  Duboeuf remains the biggest producer of Beaujolais Nouveau; unlike the "flower" labels of his other wines, his Nouveau features a colourful abstract design that changes every year.

Each fall the new Beaujolais would arrive with much fanfare as you will see in the this clip below of the BN antics that were on display in New York at last years festivities. So if you want to participate in the tradition grab, which I highly recommend that you do, grab a few bottles [normally very reasonably priced] and welcome in the 2011 vintage.

Remember "Nouveau" is made for quick and easy quaffing, a drink now and drink often wine style. If you interested in Beaujolais and want to explore it further, it also available on a regular basis in the form of Haut-Beaujolais or Cru Beaujolais, which are generally more concentrated versions of Beaujolais Nouveau. If you see BN on store shelves after the beginning of the year, you may just want to avoid it altogether or just opt for a Cru Beaujolais.

One thing that really makes Beaujolais Nouveau different from the way other wine is produced is the use of Carbonic Maturation, also known as whole berry fermentation. This process emphasizes fruit flavors without extracting bitter tannins from the skins of the grapes. A technique which tends to give the wine a banana or eggnog aromas [strange I know, but that is what I smell] in the nose and a odd candied-apple quality on the finish. If you've never tried this wine before, you should seek it out and give it a swirl. Many folks are decidedly in favor of pairing wine with their Thanksgiving meal [nothing wrong with that move], but I still prefer a great "Carneros" Pinot Noir with the traditional fixing's served here at Chez Vino.

This is same wine I picked up off the shelves of the "Sprouts" here in East Lake while doing my shopping for upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, yep hosting once more. Mrs. Cuvee and I enjoyed this interesting little quaffer, quite tasty for the price. Closure was a synthetic cork with typical notes of banana in the nose and a candied dry cherry on the palate, a short to medium finish. A wine best served a bit chilled, pairs very nicely with cheese and salami, what some call a true bistro wine. I would love to hear your experiences with this wine, until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wine of the Week: 2008 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon

Wow, where did the year go? It's already November and another Wine Wednesday on tap, time to uncork the wine of the week. By the way, you have less than 60 days to get your Christmas shopping done, but don't panic as I've just about to highlight the perfect gift. 

In the spot-light this week is a very tasty Cabernet Sauvignon, from the great folks at Sequoia Grove which occupies a nice 24 acre slice in heart of the Napa Valley's Rutherford Bench district.  

For the terroir hunter; you'll find abundant alluvial soils, which are known to produce grapes with tendencies to give a distinctive mineral character when made into wine and commonly referred to as "Rutherford dust" a descriptive term you may have seen before applied to wines from this AVA. If you want to get real "nerdy" needing a full explanation, you can pop your cork here. The Norcal wine guy does a great job, giving you an insiders point of view on the topic.

I had the good fortune of receiving samples of both the 2007 and 2008 Vintage. One from great folks at Kobrand via Jeff Donegan and one from the "fab" PR group known as Nike Communications via Erin Jaffe. A unique opportunity indeed to explore to very different vintages and one I did not take lightly. So bonus for you today, two wines reviewed for the price of one.

Both of the wines in my mind are a great "buy" ready to rock your palate for a reasonable price, both wines have a SRP of $35. But the savvy-shopper can find it somewhere south of $30. I would highly recommend decanting for at least an hour [or more] before hand, as both wines have many layers, which could be more easily unfolded with a little air.

Sometimes even we vino-sapiens need a breath of fresh air, well so do some of our wines. This is often the case with Napa-Cab's who are big, brawny monsters that need a bit of time to calm down after they've been uncorked. If you don't have a Reidel, Cabernet Decanter, may I heartily recommend getting yourself one, they really are an indispensable tool, especially if you are buying wines of this caliber.

SGCS 2007: A tasty blend of 82% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, 6% cabernet franc, and 6% petite verdot. In the glass a ruby, heading toward garnet. Aromas of dark plum, earth, sweet-vanilla and a hint of bakers chocolate invite my first long, but oh-so serious slurp. Where I'm treated to generous red and black fruits, leather, earthy accents, well integrated easy going tannins, great structure for aging and medium to plus sized finish. I give this wine a score of 91 points, serious sipping here.

SGCS 2008: Another tasty blend of 86% Cab. Sauv., 9% Merlot, 3% Cab. Franc, and the odd-man out 2% Syrah, produced mostly from Rutherford fruit [57%]. Described as a difficult vintage due to various factors, spring frost and summer fires filling the air with smoke. In the glass, a shiny ruby colored core, stuffing my fat-Irish nose down in the glass to get a quick whiff, lovely aromatics dusty berries, toast and pleasant herbs. This wine could do with a little more bottle time, but it does have a smooth seductive style, a creamy medley of mocha laced currant, wild berry flavors are shaded by toasty oak, you'll will find the finish long and generous. Despite the challenges it looks like they were able to pull it off, nicely done and I scored this wine 90 points. Give it a swirl, it's a solid Napa Value!

Pairing Suggestion: I'm real easy when it comes to pairing; so whenever I'm faced with opening with opening Napa Cabernet, the first thing which comes to mind; is a choice New York strip. My wine of choice happily decanting hours before and then slapping that NYS on a smoking-hot grill for 8 minutes one side on high heat and 4 minutes on the back end to produce medium-rare fresh off the barbie-goodness. Add some fresh potato-salad or fresh-cut french fries into the mix, with a simple garden salad and you have a purple-paved paradise waiting to slap your palate silly. Until next time sip long and prosper cheers!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Harvest Passport: Taste of the Ventura Wine Scene

Welcome to November, crisp clear days, plenty of football action and it's also time to get your wine on this fall. How, well I have the what I call the perfect recommendation for you next wine-soaked journey. 

If you happen to live in or around the Ventura County area or perhaps you'd just like to take a day trip to wine country for the weekend and include a little time at nearby beaches, then the Harvest Passport is your ticket to ride. The perfect ticket to eating local and drinking local and with the weather cooperating so nicely, now is the perfect time as the Ventura County Winery Association has a very tasty deal for the wandering-wino looking for new wine tasting adventure; that they call their Harvest Passport, bonus it's good for the entire month of November.

Okay, so here's the "dealio" vino-fans for $35 you get a Passport to sample five-wine flights at six different wineries for one low price. That folks is an amazing good deal, as the tasting fees at many individual wineries can be any where from $10 -$15 per person, do the math.

By the way if you find something that you really like and just can't live without; Passport holders get 10% off purchases during their visit, bonus. So what are you waiting for get your tickets here and if you're wondering "hmm, where are these wineries located?" good question here's the answer, just click here to see the map which will have you tasting like a local in no-time. Until next time folks, sip long and prosper, cheers!
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